Light Touch

MFA's Beck building stands like a fortress but caresses sunlight like a doting mother

And then there's the light, diffuse and constant throughout the day regardless of the weather. The design of the rooftop lanterns was studied for a year using a full-size mock-up in the museum's parking lot north of the First Presbyterian Church. Light entering through the louvered lanterns is reflected off sloping and curved ceiling surfaces before it reaches the wall where paintings are hung. Moneo used a similar arrangement in the Moderna Museet with less-than-satisfactory success, but the lengthy experimentation here seems to have made the difference in refining the concept.

All paths through the galleries return you to the big atrium to retrace your steps to the basement tunnels. There are few places to sit up in the galleries, and a lot to see. Your return visit should be as rewarding as the first because the architectural setting is strong without overpowering the other arts in its charge. In fact, the architectural qualities of the Beck building -- qualities of space, movement, a limited palette of beautifully detailed materials and, of course, light -- are as much on display as its paintings.

Houston architect Gerald Moorhead, FAIA, is contributing editor forTexas Architect and writes for other professional journals.

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